An excavator off Bath Road in Brunswick with a sign reading “endangered species here,” attached to it. Courtesy of Jacqueline Sartoris

A road-widening project in Brunswick has drawn concern from at least one member of the town council who says it is damaging critical natural habitat.

The new lane will be 12 feet wide and about 400 feet long and is permitted to be constructed in the Maine Department of Transportation’s right of way.

According to former Town Councilor Jacqueline Sartoris and District 2 Town Councilor Steve Walker, the turning lane project is impacting the Sandplain Grassland habitat, which Sartoris said, is “identified as a critically-imperiled natural community by the state.” Sartoris is also a Citizen Member of the Comprehensive Plan Committee.

Town Engineer Ryan Barnes said in an email that, while the town was aware of the proposed roadway widening, the town was not the permitting authority for the final approval of the work. Barnes added that the available mapping did not indicate any endangered habitat or species in the right of way.

According to the town’s mapping system, there is one parcel about 35 feet outside of the right of way, roughly a quarter-acre in size, that is listed under the Maine Natural Areas Program as a rare plant community, which includes the endangered species of clothed sedge, a species of grass.

“It is unclear from the photo shown if the excavator with the sign attached to it is located within this small mapped area or not, but it has been removed from this location,” Barnes said. “The town has requested that the contractor park their equipment within the right of way or on the site that is under construction.”

Walker, however, said that the town’s mapping is incomplete, referencing another map by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that shows the area, including the right of way, to be classified under “rare, threatened, or endangered wildlife.”

A habitat map of Brunswick from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife shows locations where endangered, rare or threatened wildlife communities exist along Route 1. Screenshot. 

Both Sartoris and Walker said that the project is another example of a larger issue, where the Sandplain Grassland in the Brunswick Landing area is slowly being developed.

“What I’m most interested in and why I brought this to the town’s attention to begin with is not where the excavator was parked but why projects within the Sandplain Grassland keep slipping away from the town and why we keep having impact after impact,” Walker said.

“These habitats are being chopped away, slivered off, and harmed until their function as essential places for diminishing plants and animals is gone,” Sartoris said.

Walker said that species in that immediate area include the Sandplain Grassland, the Clothed Sedge and Dryland Sedge.

“It becomes death by a thousand cuts,” Walker added, referencing a 20-acre solar project by Bowdoin College that was approved in December.

An image submitted to The Times Record shows an excavator on June 6 with a home-made sign attached to it that read “endangered species here.”

According to Sebago Technic’s Vice President of Project Delivery Kylie Mason, the contracting company working on the project, nothing was identified through the permitting process as sensitive or endangered.

“The project in its entirety has approval from DEP, it has approval from Maine DOT and it has an approval from the town of Brunswick,” Mason added, noting that impact to rare habitat or vegetation did not occur to her knowledge, and if it did, it was on accident.

Attempts to contact the Maine Department of Environmental Protection on both Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful.

While the right of way is property owned by the Maine Department of Transportation, MDOT Public Information Officer Paul Merrill said that approval on their end, which was related to traffic volume increases, does not involve any environmental review.

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